Two months on from the decreeing of a state of emergency on account of Covid-19, and in spite of the measures taken to contain it and to reduce the economic damage caused, the pandemic continues to rage in Peru.
This last week, the number of cases identified surpassed the 80,000 level, the worst-hit areas being impoverished neighbourhoods of Lima and some of the main cities of the north, including Trujillo, Chiclayo, Piura and Iquitos.
As of 15 May, the number of cases officially identified stood at 84,495, and the death toll at 2,392, but both could be much higher. Seven days ago, the official figures were 61,847 and 1,714 respectively.
Perhaps grasping at straws, the Vizcarra government claims that the country is over the worst and that the curve of the pandemic is ‘flattening out’. Central Bank Governor Julio Velarde went so far as to declare that the Peruvian economy should begin to register a recovery in the third quarter of the year, a V-shaped recovery, far from the more pessimistic assumptions of other commentators who expect, at best, a U-shaped recovery or even an L-shaped one.
The government has thrown all it can at the crisis. According to Economy Minister María Antonieta Alva, the various programmes announced – including attending to immediate health requirements, financial help to families and assistance to companies – have cost the equivalent of 14% of GDP. And the bill is constantly rising.
As in other countries, the government faces the crippling dilemma of whether to maintain restrictions and prevent further contagion (at huge expense) or whether to start relaxing controls and hope that the effects on contagion are not too serious.
As we noted last week, certain sectors – including extractive industries – are to begin returning to normal, subject to observance of sanitary protocols and rules about social distancing. Unions have drawn attention to the risks this poses both to their members and their families. Other activities will begin in June. Alva believes that by the end of June nearly 3 million workers will have returned to their jobs. The overall idea is that 95% of the productive apparatus will be functioning again by September.
But all this depends on whether plans to stem the virus bear fruit. Epidemiologists challenge the government’s assertion that the disease is plateauing. Some advocate cordoning off those areas, like San Juan de Lurigancho and San Martín de Porres, where the virus is rampant. They point to the inability of the health system to respond, with people dying without being able to access ventilators. Street markets provide the virus with a natural haven. According to specialists from the University of Washington, the death toll could exceed 6,000 by August.
The contagion has prompted concern for more effective policies towards vulnerable communities. Last week saw the publication of a study, contracted by the health ministry, on links of solidarity among the under-privileged and the importance of public policy to strengthen them. Edited by Manuel Burga, Aldo Panfichi and Felipe Portocarrero, the study seeks to give a voice to “people in the informal sector, Venezuelan refugees, women, children, young people, the peoples of Amazonia”. The policies suggested include both immediate responses and some longer-term ideas as to how social cohesion can be encouraged.
Cooperacción has published a useful map which details the incidence of Covid-19 in various mining camps around Peru. The total number of mineworkers afflicted by the virus now totals at least 506, with one death. The number of cases has doubled in just over a week.
Interestingly, last week there was speculation that perhaps altitude and the physiological characteristics that go with it may provide something of a barrier to the spread of Covid-19 among Andean communities. It is clearly the case that the numbers of those suffering the virus are much fewer in highland parts of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia than in coastal areas and in the Amazonian lowlands to the east.